Can you buy land and put a modular home in Topanga/Malibu for $400k?

Asked by John in Berkeley, Topanga, CA Sat Dec 29, 2012

Someone asked a question a couple of years back about building a modular home in Topanga for $250k. The general response was that it was going to be a real challenge - getting permits was tricky, the buildable lots were too expensive and scarce, and so forth.

I thought I'd pose the question again with a ceiling of $400K (maybe $500k) to see what folks thought. Is this reasonable? Do-able ?

Reading between the lines, it sounded like getting permits could take a year or two. Is that the case ?

The wife and I are very interested in exploring this possibility.

Cheers, John

Help the community by answering this question:

+ web reference
Web reference:


John Arendsen’s answer
John Arendsen, Agent, Leucadia, CA
Sat Dec 29, 2012
I definietely agree with Christine if you are looking at developing a lot that has never been built on before. Just your site prep and infrastructure costs could eat up a good part of that budget. That stated, should you be able to purchase an existing distressed home and scrape it and replace it with a MH you may be able to save on a lot of developmental costs providing the infrastructure was not in need of to much upgrading.

There are some beautiful Modular Homes in TC. We actually were involved in a very large one in the 90's. The neighbors kicked and screamed a bunch but at the end of the day and when the dust all settled it actually was much nicer than most of its neighbors.

We no longer service that area but we would be happy to refer you to some very experienced and reputable MH dealers and developers that live and work in that area and have done many projects there during the past several decades.

Contact me anytime at 760 815-6977 or email me at
Web Reference:
1 vote
Goicovich, Home Buyer, Lake Elsinore, CA
Mon Feb 6, 2017
I totally disagree with the realtors , i know the higher the price higher the profit ,
i'm a GC and we built a foundation for a mobile home and 400 sq garage (2200sq ft) in Malibu ,
total project including land and house was less 300 K
and believe me the terrain was like pure rock , the key is permits , and those damn oaks trees
you'll find really hard to avoid those situations , and not to forget the OLD people from coastal com ,
1 vote
Hi I saw your answer and I'm also interested in buying land and finding a gc - would it be possible to get your contact?
Flag Mon Sep 18, 2017
From Topanga and renting a room on Henry Ridge and there is so much space.
Flag Wed Jun 21, 2017
I know! This should be easier! Been born and raised in topanga since 1980 and I want to live here! Trying to make my life long dream a reality. Gotta find some loop holes and some good specialists!!
Flag Wed Jun 21, 2017
Really? When was this project completed?
Flag Wed Mar 15, 2017
lp_8788, Home Buyer, Los Angeles, CA
Sat Oct 18, 2014
What about a composting toilet?
1 vote, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
ok maybe I'm mistaken, I was basing my info off the LA Co public health memo from January2012. If there are more recent revisions--my bad.
Also i do realize that the land for sale off Saddle Peak/upper Tuna, may require "advanced" (i.e.expensive) septic systems especially when the proposed home has more than 4 bedrooms and the steep hillside site requires extensive grading to accomodate a large foot print, pool, tennis court, horse barracks etc.

The original question is about building on tight budget. In the spirit of economizing, I do reccomend that budget minded builders seek out more practical lots which incorporate 2 areas for future leach placement. This will keep cost in control and speed up the permit process. A buyer can always ask for reports (even expired). Buyers are advised to check budget numbers with qualified professionals (architects, engineers) and not rely on hear say when making critical budget choices.

Chistine, i don't intend to offend you and I'm sorry if I stepped on your toes. I am not realestate agent. Merely a construction professional, who accidently stubbled upon this web-thread. Nor am I trying to drum up business. My intent was to create some good karma by sharing my particular expertise. I suppose most buyers coming into the canyon these days are not interested modest homes; therefore, your advice is more on point.
1 vote
I appreciate the positive view. My dream since I was 6 is to buy my own piece of land and build a modest house! Love some advice from any knowledgeable and positive people. I don't want a mega mansion!
Flag Wed Jun 21, 2017, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
christine, I agree that $400-$500 is under budget for the "typical" home recently constructed in 90290.
Please keep in mind that most (if not all) homes built in the area in the past several years are VERY Large, opulent McMansion style residences on large parcels. It seems (to me at least) that these homes (3 to 5 bedroom > 3K sq ft, perched on rocky hillsides, accessed by private roads) contain many fancy-pants finishes and silly electronics. So, if a buyer has their heart set on building a faux-mediterian megaplex on henry ridge or little las flores or hawksnest, then one million plus is smart starting point.

However, a modest, 1 to 2 bedroom home requires a 750gal septic tank. With positive soils and perk, the cost for spetic w/ associated leach and grading/installation is far, far below $100k.
Additionally home owners run into unexpected costs for site prep (grading, retention, et al). That's why it's prefferable to purchase a lot with reports available and consult with an architect as part of the pre-sale inspection and due dillegence.

An owner can save $$ by doing the legwork with LACo him/herself.
1 vote
I do agree as well. Doable with the proper approach.
Flag Fri Feb 10, 2017
Christine Ka…, Agent, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
I hate to say that no, $400,000 is not a sufficient amount to buy a lot and build in Topanga.
Reports for septic and geology grading and drainage, fire dept requirements, are costly. Then septic is realistically going to need to be budgeted at 100k. Add on the actual construction costs, and you just can't do it - and I would hate to see you waste the money finding this out. I recently heard from a local architect that you will now need about a million to build here...but that could be a little high in my opinion. Sometimes you can get real fixer-uppers that you could work on. Those also require someone with knowledge to work out the problems - but could be a better option for you in my opinion. Christine Kapetan,
1 vote, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
Yes. Absolutely!
First you'll need to find a suitable lot. Try to find a lot
1) which comes with current (not expired) reports for soil, geo, survey, perk et al.
2) has a driveway/access graded
3) has ultilites water/electric on site or available on the street.
4) has a suitable building pad close to the street. (you'll need a 20' wide drive=$$)
Keep your expections realistic. You may not be able to build a 5,000 sq ft megaplex on 20 acs.
You will also need to be heavily involved every step of the way. Which means selecting your GC and trades very carefully. Planning every last detail (including source and pre order all materials and finishes) prior to construction. Limit change orders.
I would advise daily site visits and progress payments based upon percentage of completion. Issue checks every friday. You'll be surprised how fast works gets done when the trades know a payday is coming. Invest in job site trailer and keep a big calender where all the trades can view.
A modest 2 bed 1bath < 1,200 sq ft on a small lot is totally doable in you price range.
1 vote
Shahrouz38, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Tue Aug 15, 2017
I bought a land and want to build a house on it
My question is to build a house it takes like one year but I don't want live to another place . I want to rent something like mobile house and put on the land during a build house.
How can I find that mobile house?
0 votes
jreynolds, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Mon May 15, 2017
Here are some thoughts. Topanga is unique in a lot of ways. If you buy land inside the Coastal Commision area it will be more difficult to get permits and more expensive. If you are planning to get a septic system there are newer regulations and that system runs around 100k. Yes, 100k here in Topanga if you do it legally. You would want a full recent survey done, know where the easements etc., are located. You will need geology and perk tests. Is it in a landslide area? Two of our neighbors have lots for sale that currently are in landslide areas. There will be other considerations as far as a septic system is concerned if the property is located within 100-150ft from a creek. You will also need to meet with the Fire Dept. and they may have other requirements.

You should talk to someone at Regional Planning and hire a Land Use consultant to help you through your decision process, due diligence and investigations or you could really end up in a mess.

Yes, probably a year out of Coastal Commision and 2 years for land within Coastal Commission for permits.

Many of the ads for land may say buildable or that they were tested years ago, but until you have a recent survey, recent testing results and know all the current ordinances, building codes, etc., it may not currently be buildable.

Good luck.
0 votes
fridgeandfre…, Home Buyer, Topanga, CA
Sat May 2, 2015
sorry to add on so late to this chain..

I am in escrow for a plot of land in topanga and yes its on a slope but very build able..not steep.. I heard a septic tank can be up to 100k.. there are other houses near so i'm guessing utilities are close..can anyone share the other costs..I'm getting the land for 375k and a pre fab house for 375k , the question is I'll be into it for 750K , whats the chance of keeping this project to a million,, ?? Other than the septic and grading can i do other parts myself to keep the cost down..
any info would be fab ?

0 votes
How did it go? Did you get septic tank in? Etc?
Flag Thu Jul 14, 2016
Christine Ka…, Agent, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
always good to share your information. it's an extensive project and everything helps. I agree. Thanks!
0 votes
Christine Ka…, Agent, Topanga, CA
Tue Jul 23, 2013
true, but we don't have much land that qualifies for a leach field anymore, so the septic is back up to 100k. New regulations. It's safe to budget for that I think. Most of the construction costs are not in the design of a house - but in the foundations and driveways, septic and draining - anyway - that's my thoughts based on my experience selling land here...maybe you know better. :)
0 votes
Tanya Starce…, Agent, Pacific Palisades, CA
Fri Mar 22, 2013
Please call me to discuss. I have several builders that I can refer you to that will help with process and I have land for sale!

Tanya Starcevich (310) 739-4216
0 votes
Christine Ka…, Agent, Topanga, CA
Sat Dec 29, 2012
Hi John, As for the timeframe for constructing a house: if you are inside of the CA Coastal Commission Zone (5 miies from the Coastline) then you are looking at more wait time than if you are not. Topanga is divided inside and outside of the Coastal Zone. The price of a septic has increased and probably will cost you 80 -100k - though you may be able to do it for less if you have enough flat land for a field. The other costs - foundation and driveway, retaining walls will depend on the terrain and slope and distance to a road...a legal road. Also - you will need a fire hydrant with adequate flow. It may be difficult on a 400 - 500k budget. Maybe a fixer would work better. Christine
0 votes
Hi Christine. I noticed in another post you mentioned the septic costs. I'm surprised (not disbelieving) at that amount. What's driven the cost so high ? Am I reading this correctly that you're talking about land that isn't flat ? Also, what's the real-world translation of the phrase 'gentle slope' ?
Flag Sat Dec 29, 2012
Search Advice
Ask our community a question
Home Buying in Topanga Zip Codes

Email me when…

Learn more